1. 7 Nov, Day 24, we departed Banjarmasin for Balikpapan, some 500 km to the NE, taking the coastal route along the SE coast of Kalimantan and making a night stop at Batu Lichin. At Batu Lichin, Ah Meng had arranged his friend, Mr Huang, to meet up with us, as Mr Huang might be able to tell us more about how we can ship our car from Balikpapan and Makassar.
2. After checking out of Rattan Inn Hotel at about 9 am, we stopped at PT Trijaya Perkasa Abadi to have the tyres briefly checked, stopped to take a picture of Mesjid Raya Sabilal Muhtadin and walked the streets and alleys of Pasar Baru.
3. Located next to the river, Pasir Baru comprises streets of small shops and a maze of narrow parallel alleys stretching from the wooden boardwalk along the river to the main road. Along the river-line boardwalk, we passed a group of senior citizens playing chess. A bustling area, rather chaotic, but clearly serving its purpose of serving the community, especially the lower income group. Shops/stores sell practically everything - clothes, CDs, bags, food and food stuff, etc. It was enlightening to know that worldly fashion still counted among the Muslims here, judging by the range of fashionable tudongs and Haji caps in the stores.
4. On the landing of a staircase to indoor shops, a group of 8 was playing a game that looked like Dominoes. They were using cloth pegs to keep track of their winnings.
5. Along the roads were seas of motorcycles. Entrepreneurial young men earned their pocket money by providing card boards to cover the seats of motorcycles from the hot sun for 1000 Rps.
6. There were many mosques along the way to Batu Lichin and to Balikpapan; mostly small mosques serving the local community. A key feature was the decorative colours of the domes above the mosques. Here is one example, and there were many other colourful domes. People in this part of Kalimantan are mostly Muslims. One may find a temple or two in the town, like in Banjarmasin. Churches could be found in towns or in the hills, as Dayaks are mostly Christians.
7. We made a stop for durians on the way to Batu Lichin. Here you see Yeow Pheng showing the locals how to cut a mango. The bare-chested man considered himself a local even though his origin was Chinese.
8. Coal mining is big business in this part of Kalimantan. We followed a sign board to see a coal stockpile. We could see the coal still smoldering.
9. As we approached Batu Lichin, houses on both sides of the road became more dense. They were beautiful wooden houses, some brightly coloured; charming in their own way.
10. Before the town of Batu Lichin, we found a very presentable hotel, Ebony Hotel, to stay for the night, checking in a 6 pm; a good 6 hours of driving from Banjarmasin. At 7 pm, Mr Huang (Ah Meng's friend) met us at the hotel with her daughter, Eka, to bring us for dinner. As we drove into Batu Lichin town, Mr Huang pointed to us many buildings that he developed and sold. He has homes in Batu Lichin, Banjarmasin and Sumpit, with members of his family staying there. As a business strategy, he would target emerging new towns for property development, as competition is less keen there. He would sell the properties with payment periods of between 2-3 years. He seemed to know what he was doing and appeared successful. Unfortunately, he could not tell us much about shipping of our car from Balikpapan to Makassar.
11. After breakfast at Ebony, we left early at 7 pm to continue our journey to Balikpapan. We were expecting a good 10-11 hours of driving.
12. We took a short break to look at this buzzy colourful morning market next to the road. Not unexpectedly, we drew quite a great deal of attention.
13. Further North, we passed through a hilly region, before Tanah Grogot, where hills looked like those in Quilin in China. At a glance, they looked pretty, but on closer look, they looked to me hills that had been cut. Not just one or two, but many. My guess is that the area must be a huge mine many years ago. Over time, vegetation covers the hills but the scars are still obvious. The area reminded me of the Malaysian town of Ipoh, which was renowned for its tin mines years ago.
14. At Penajam, we had to take a ferry to cross over to Balikpapan, 4.3 km away, about an hour ride. It was rather straightforward. Yeow Pheng bought the ticket for 170 000 Rps and we just managed to catch the ferry as it loaded in the last vehicles. We left the vehicle in the lower deck. At the upper deck, we had a bowl of noodle soup, watched a couple of salesmen trying to market their wares, and enjoyed the scenery. From far, the houses on the hill slopes of Balikpapan looked charming. It could well have been Bergen of Norway in years to come.
15. Balikpapan is a seaport located on Eastern coast of Kalimantan, an area rich in oil, coal and timber. It has a population of 760 000 (2007). It is part of East Kalimantan province which has its capital in Samarinda. We were told Samarinda has a bigger population than Balikpapan, but we have not figured out its population. Oil companies, such as Pertamina, Total, Chevron, Halliburton, have their HQs located here in Balikpapan. Because of this, it has a sizable expatriate community and a more vibrant F&B scene.
16. With the help of Rizal, a working colleague of Yeow Pheng's nephew, we booked into Comfort Sigata Hotel, at about 400 000 Rps a night. Its a tastefully designed hotel and has a modern look and feel. I particularly liked the atrium.
17. That night, Rizal brought us to Oceans for seafood dinner. Oceans is located in riverfront development, with alfresco dining right to the edge of the water. We decided to try the coconut crab, the largest land-living arthropod in the world; but once is enough. It was huge, at 2.7 kg. We gave instruction to cook in 2 styles, but it came in 2 plates cooked the same way (chili), giving some excuses that it could not be done. Took a while to figure out how to "attack" it. Its meat was tough, as compared to the Sri Lanka crabs that we mostly eat in Singapore.
18. We decided to spend the next morning checking out the shipping arrangements for the car and before deciding our next steps.